The Nationals will soon have decisions to make regarding their roster

As the Nationals slowly start to get healthy, they will have some tough decisions to make regarding their roster as their Minor League call ups have performed well when filling in, making a potential re-assignment back to AAA Rochester not so simple.
Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins
Washington Nationals v Miami Marlins / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

The Nationals currently sit at 19-20 overall after dropping a series over the weekend to the Boston Red Sox, but all things considered they have been playing well despite dipping back below .500, especially when you consider the largely less than optimistic expectations many had of this team entering the season.

This improvement did not just happen by accident, as the Nationals have gotten great play from their Minor League call ups in the stead of the starters who hit the injured list over the first month of the season.

Players like Jacob Young, Trey Lipscomb and more recently Mitchell Parker have all stepped in and played very well.

Trey Lipscomb was the first call up for the Nationals this season, and was called up before anyone expected as Nick Senzel fractured his thumb on Opening Day. Lipscomb was just coming off a scorching performance in Spring Training where he hit .400 with a .995 OPS in 21 games. He was ultimately left off the Opening Day roster which was disappointing, but understandable. After getting his shot, Lipscomb had a great opening stretch of games before cooling off mightily. He was eventually optioned upon Senzel's return, but would again get a chance following an injury to Joey Gallo, this time at first base instead of the hot corner.

I will say there is evidence in Lipscomb's game that suggests he is not quite MLB ready and could use some more time in AAA, so I think it is pretty cut and dry that when Gallo returns, likely later this week, that Lipscomb will be optioned again. However, I include him in this conversation based on what Lipscomb has been able to do on the road this season. In 17 road games this season, Lipscomb is hitting .321 with a .793 OPS. In 13 home games, Lipscomb is batting .122 with a .322 OPS. A pretty big difference in performance. But if Lipscomb can get his home stats to look more like his away stats, he will be a mainstay in the Majors.

Mitchell Parker is another player that, at least in theory, could use more time to develop in the Minors, but you would not know it based on the way he has pitched. After being called up on April 15, Parker has gone 2-1 with a 2.67 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP. Parker debuted against the Los Angeles Dodgers and was able to get the win in his MLB debut, something a Nationals pitcher had not done in over 12 years. He followed it up by going seven scoreless innings in his next start in a win against the Houston Astros.

Parker has pitched excellent, and no part of his performance necessarily suggests he needs to be sent back down. However, with being called up so early in the season, the Nationals will undoubtedly be cautious with the workload of their young lefty. Last season, the Nationals opted to go with a six man rotation for the final two months of the season. When Josiah Gray returns, they could do the same. The biggest difference now is that the starting rotation is actually pitching well and the Nationals may not want to disrupt anyone's rhythym or routine by going to a six man rotation this early in the season.

And finally, we reach Jacob Young. Young played in 33 games last season for the Nationals and hit a respectable .252 with a .638 OPS. Young's biggest contribution came defensively in Center Field and on the basepaths. Young stole 13 bags in those 33 games without being caught and displayed well above average defense. After being called up to replace Victor Robles who went on the injured list earlier this season, Young has now played in 31 games this season and improved upon last years numbers in almost the same sample size. Young is currently hitting .275 with a .690 OPS and has already eclipsed a 1.3 bWAR on the season. While he has been caught stealing twice, Young has also stolen 13 bags. He was also recently listed as a top 10 centerfielder by Bleacher Report, for as much stock as you care to put into player rankings.

The one "downside" to Young's game is that he does not hit for much power, and therefore will never have the highest OPS. As the attention to OPS becomes more and more prevealent in the evaluation of players, Young's impact is more old school and therefore he needs to be evaluated differently than the sluggers in today's game. That being said, Young has to maintain a high average and high on-base percentage to hold any value offensively. So far, Young has been able to do so with a .275 average and .350 OBP respectively. Once considered to profile as a solid, defense first 4th outfielder, Young is proving he can be an everyday player on a competitive team. Even with Robles' return, Young was not sent down and continues to start in Center Field over Robles.

So Young is safe, right?

You would think so, but the Nationals will have a tough decision on their hand when their projected key players, like Gallo, Gray and particularly Lane Thomas return from injury, as most of them are close to doing.

Gallo will bump Lipscomb off the roster, that much seems clear. And as we went over earlier, that won't be a bad thing for Lipscomb's development.

Parker will likely make way to Gray, whether now or later as the Nationals will likely want to skip some of Parker's starts or at least give him more days off in between starts as they manage his workload. But they could go to a six man rotation for a month before doing so if they wanted Parker to stay in his rhythym, which has been very good thus far.

So who moves when Lane Thomas comes back? Thomas is all but certain to reclaim his starting spot in Right Field. Young has been starting over Robles in Center Field, so you would think Young's spot is safe for now, although he is the only outfielder with Minor League options.

Eddie Rosario was a DFA candidate in April, but has recently gotten hot as he won National League Player of the Week last week. Any thought of releasing Rosario has been tabled, for now.

The aforementioned Robles has returned from injury and despite some tough performances on the basepaths, it is hard to envision him going anywhere. The Nationals seem to be content with Robles as their 4th outfielder, so much so that Eddie Rosario was their Opening Day centerfielder.

Jesse Winker was arguably the Nationals most valuable player outside of CJ Abrams the first month of the season, and despite a down stretch that includes being 0 for his last 14 and dropping his OPS to .737, I do not see Winker going anywhere either. Winker is however dealing with back spasms, so it is possible that if they continue, the Nationals could give Winker time off on the injured list as they reinstate Thomas. That could give them more time to figure out how to navigate this crowded outfield.

Personally, I do not think the answer will come from the outfield but rather the infield.

To me, Joey Menses is the clear cut candidate. Despite finally homering in the series against Boston, Meneses has been dreadful this season. On the season, Meneses is hitting .213 with a .546 OPS and a 61 OPS+ (100 is league average). Many will remember Menses' "linsanity" run in 2022 following the trade of Juan Soto where he hit 13 home runs in 56 games to close out the season. That was fun and all, but Meneses has only homered 14 times in 189 games since. That driving factor to his offensively value is long gone. Meneses currently has a -0.4 bWAR in 2024.

Many will point to Meneses' RBI totals as an argument for him to stay, but in reality that is a product of consistently hitting fourth in the lineup, behind frequently on base players like CJ Abrams and Jacob Young. Meneses only has a .657 OPS with RISP, and frequently scores runs via groundout. An RBI is an RBI, but it has not been convincing with Meneses, particularly given his frequent weak contact.

Moving on from Meneses would give the Nationals more flexibility and truly allow them to put their best lineup forward. Winker could move to the everyday DH, a position that would let his best abilities shine and hide his weaknesses, mainly his defense. Rosario, Young and Thomas could man the outfield with Robles filling in against lefties and as a traditional 4th outfielder. And the Nationals would actually get solid production from the middle of their lineup for the first time this season without Meneses taking up a spot.

Ultimately, I think the Nationals take the easy way out and option someone to the Minors, likely Jacob Young, which is unfortunate and might send the wrong message to the players. You should not be punished for performing well. While they may not be a playoff team when it is all said and done, they are in the thick of the Wild Card race as it currently stands so they may as well try to make some magic.